Get your goetta by the riverside
A spiced meat product for challenging times
Because this trip dispatch didn’t entail the research, interviews, and other reporting that goes into The Food Section’s standard coverage, it’s free for all to read. If you’re not already a paying subscriber, consider upgrading today to keep receiving the newsletter on Wednesdays.
For no apparent good reason, Newport, Kentucky’s Goettafest is held at the end of July.
“It's the worst time of the year for a Goetta fest: It's unbearably hot and not the right weather for goetta,” Dann Wollert, author of the definitive Cincinnati Goetta: A Delectable History, has griped.
Perhaps it would make more sense to serve fried patties of ground pork, onions, spices, and pinhead oats in the fall. But goetta—which originated in Covington, Kentucky, despite being claimed by the city across the river—seems to thrive in adverse conditions.
I typically report on food festivals that haven’t yet happened, since it makes sense to steer readers to events they can attend rather than make them feel glum about what they missed. But since my vacation month culminated with a cabin rental on the outskirts of Falmouth, Kentucky, I had the rare chance to check out Glier’s Goettafest (which is conveniently taking place again this weekend.)
What I’ve learned from talking to food festival organizers on a weekly basis is that most food festivals are largely the same, with similar lineups of rock bands, craft vendors, and inflatable operators. But there are a few fundamental differences based on the food’s reputation and people’s relationship to it.
For instance, there isn’t an eating contest at Goettafest, which is a standard schedule entry at festivals celebrating foods that are universally beloved. Nor are there any competitions that treat goetta, commonly described as cousin to scrapple or livermush, as a sculpting material or bathing medium: Those games are hallmarks of festivals devoted to foods that are more second nature than quirky or seasonal.
Instead, there’s a noticeable emphasis on hardship at Goettafest, including a corporate timeline that recalls when the producer had to scale back because it couldn’t meet the requirements of the Wholesome Meat Act (1969) and when a business coach was retained to address the brand’s weaknesses (1999). The main tent also features a display of a threadbare mascot costume, retired on the festival’s first day: A worker in the information booth told me she hadn’t yet seen a replacement Mr. Goetta.
Because she was busy eating goetta cheese fries, I didn’t want to pry further. Along the Goettafest midway, there are loaded goetta potatoes, goetta balls, and goetta on a stick, but cheese fries were a strong choice. I don’t know what the business coach told Glier’s top brass, but it seems like what goetta has to offer is heat and texture, both of which are excellent foils to the melted cheese that Americans crave. I loved my goetta pizza.
To put it another way, goetta might not soon shake the stigma of being “an acquired taste,” as one mystified festivalgoer said. But it’s ready to meet what’s thrown at it, which is reason enough to fest—regardless of the weather.
In the wake of deadly flash flooding, eastern Kentucky is bracing for hot temperatures that could imperil the lives of residents who lost power to the historic disaster. Appalshop has compiled a list of mutual aid and other local recovery funds; another donation portal is Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund, set up by the state.